Montreal Fringe Festival part 4

I didn’t manage any Fringing on Tuesday or Wednesday, but caught four shows yesterday: “Mannequin Romance Mysteries: the Lady and the Leg”, “Garbage Person Island”, “Love and Pasties”, and “ATM: the Musical”. It was a little bit exhausting. There are people for whom four Fringe shows in an evening is nothing–they’ll do it every day of the festival–but me? Oof!

So let’s see what we have here.

1. Mannequin Romance Mysteries: the Lady and the Leg

A one-woman improvise murder mystery play. Well, how can I say no to a murder mystery? I guess that raises my expectations a little. The show itself was … okay, I guess. Not bad, but not exceptionally stunning. The danger with improv performances is that so much depends on what the audience puts into it, so each show can vary by quite a bit.

The format, I suppose, is a mostly-scripted play with some audience interaction in the form of mad-libs suggestions to help set the details. I’m a little uncertain as to the balance between scripted and improvised. I feel that more emphasis could have been put on the murder mystery part of the story, where there is more direct interaction with the audience. There could have been more in the way of a question as to whodunnit. I realise that this is asking a lot, but then the premise is just that ambitious.

The sequence with the mannequin leg was funny in an absurd fashion, but I’m not sure it really built a convincing narrative with the murder mystery plot.

Ms Swallow is a talented improv artist and she handles the audience suggestions with aplomb, but I think the outline of the story could use work … and there’s only so much one woman can do.

2. Garbage Person Island

I’m not sure how much of this was improvised on the spot–whether it was entirely scripted and the performers threw in a few ad libs, or whether they simply drew up an outline of what needed to happen and improvised everything from there. The overall performance was very rough, like an extended sketch comedy routine, with the sort of “throw it in” absurdist sensibility one expects more from sketch comedy or improv than from a finished play.

It’s still relatively funny, but I don’t think it holds up very well against some of the other more polished, personally invested offerings at the Fringe Festival.

3. Love and Pasties

We’re warned at the beginning that “this is not a love letter”. It isn’t, but it kind of starts out like one: a love letter to Paris and the Bohemian milieu, as Miss Sugarpuss struggles with the trials of life as an artiste–singing, dancing, modelling…. Then this guy, “Aleph”, shows up, and we move into psychological thriller territory. The Bohemian milieu is romantic, yes, but it’s also grimy and difficult: the segue from “La Boheme” to “Vertigo” is entirely convincing and natural.

Ms Gauthier-Frankel, as Miss Sugarpuss, tells her story with sass and personality, a zesty, lively attitude that charms the audience and draws them in. Mr. Nakhjavani invests Aleph with the sort of spare, understated intensity that has “noir hero” written all over it … while also managing an over-the-top comedic turn as the art professor Ofuguggi. There was a lot to laugh at, and yet the ending was suitably suspenseful. The musical numbers–a song, a couple of dances, a striptease–are very good, and if they lack the the slick and the punch of a more heavily produced show, they are certainly heartfelt. Any apparent rough edges are part of the show, intentional, and integral to the telling of the story.

All in all, a well-told story, excellently performed.

4. ATM: The Musical

Songwriting has always seemed like an impossibly difficult thing to me, so a musical number in a Fringe show almost always pushes the show up a few notches in my estimation. This is no exception, I think. The songs were pretty good; some were a little better than others. With the exception of “Dream Medium”, all were a little too loud for me–an issue more to do with the limitations of having a live band in a venue as tight as the Theatre Ste-Catherine, I believe. People better used to loud music would probably not mind, and might even consider it a plus.

The plot might have been hatched from an improv/sketch workshop: it has that absurdist “throw it in” flavour about it. It has clearly been heavily worked since then, however. In the first place, I don’t think you can write a song for a live band and not involve a certain amount of polish in the overall. In the second place, the performances seem better rehearsed, and the script tighter. There were some clever bits and a lot of funny bits, too.

The performances were, for the most part, pretty convincing in the face of some of the more outlandish plot elements. The actress who played Catherine–I have no idea who played whom–was a particular standout for me.

There is nothing here that is particularly thought-provoking, but on the whole, it was quite a lot of fun.

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